29 July 2019

What should we be thinking about when creating a Learning Tech Ecosystem?

Dani Johnson
Co-founder & Principal Analyst

Priyanka Mehrotra
Research Lead

TL;DR

  • As a part of our Learning Tech Ecosystems study, we had the opportunity to speak to a number of learning leaders (about 30). This is what was on their mind.
  • Thanks to our sponsors, Axonify, Degreed, and NovoEd.

One of the main questions we had going into the Learning Tech Ecosystem Study was, “what are learning leaders considering when they create learning tech ecosystems?” While each organization is doing different things, several threads have emerged:

  • User experience
  • Skills!
  • Data integration
  • Sustainability
  • Ecosystems for everyone

Experience

Number 1 answer? Survey says: Experience! A lot of the hype from the articles we reviewed in our literature review and almost every interview we conducted mentioned making the learning experience and supporting tech a little less Minesweeper and a little more Fortnite.

Employee experience, the ease of access, and usability are front and center in ecosystem decisions. Learning leaders shared the common desire use technology that allows them to make learning available to the employee and make it accessible in the moment of need to ensure a seamless experience.

The main reasons for this? 1) Establishing a clear signal through the noise to help employees understand what is truly important and beneficial to them; and 2) Matching the experience employees get internally with that they can get externally – hoping to engage employees and nudge them in ways that helps them personally and the organization as a whole.

Skills!

L&D leaders also highlighted the importance of shifting their efforts from providing role-based learning to skill and capabilities-based learning. As up-skilling and re-skilling become must-have conversations and development goal for leaders, democratizing learning was a goal that we heard frequently in our conversations.

This fundamentally changes the type of ecosystems that organizations need. They need to be more flexible, more integrated with the work employees are doing, and more adaptable. Instead of completing a curriculum for a role, organizations are encouraging employees to develop skills, and then using technology to help them determine where those skills can help them.

Data Integration

L&D leaders are also beginning to think much more seriously about data. In our interviews, almost every learning leader mentioned the usefulness of data – not just to help them do their own jobs better, but to provide more information to the larger organization and to individual employees by seamlessly integrating data from different functions: talent, staffing, recruiting, career, performance, and experience.

While this was one of the largest challenges that L&D leaders raised, they were also thoughtful in their responses when we asked them how they were addressing it. Many are going beyond the analytics provided by any one tool and instead finding ways to consolidate that information. Answers ranged from using an ‘anchor’ technology as the system of record and integrating data feeds from other tools to using Power BI or simple Tableau dashboards to gather, crunch, and present metrics.

"The current state of the market is requiring CLOs to become CIOs."

Interviewed Learning Leader

Sustainability

Another point that leaders surfaced was this idea of sustainability in two ways: the viability of the individual technologies in the ecosystem long-term, and the completeness and effectiveness of the ecosystem as a whole.

Several leaders were cautious of using newer technologies because of the current consolidation of the learning tech market, and it is difficult to know if they’ll be around in a year. One leader shared a few questions he asks himself when vetting tech:

  • How long has the organization been in business?
  • Are venture capitalists betting on the technology?
  • Do their other customers have similar challenges to ours, and does the vendor partner well?
  • Are the companies young and nimble enough to react?

While it’s never guaranteed that vendors of any sort have long-term sustainability, asking the right questions upfront can save a lot of headache down the road.

Many leaders also mentioned their need to have their ecosystems grow and morph along with their organizations and its needs. We found that leaders with this need are often open to more experimentation, but also much more insistent that vendors play nicely together. In fact, one leader is approaching this by conducting joint sessions with several vendors in their ecosystem. This leader brings these vendors in together to help them understand their company needs and asks them to work together on solutions that will meet those needs.

Ecosystems for Everyone

Finally, an unexpected concern of many leaders is designing an ecosystem that equally benefits the deskless employees, those located in rural environments, and the hesitant adopter.

Deskless workers currently make up about 80% of the global worker population,1 and yet, many learning technologies overlook them: from not addressing them at all (a misstep) to assuming that making something mobile and responsive solves all problems (it doesn’t). Leaders we talked to emphasized the differences in audiences and identifying technologies that will work for all, or bifurcating the ecosystem so that it will serve all.

Really great tech ideas can be derailed over the simplest things: bandwidth for instance. As one of our roundtable attendees put it, “It’s hard trying to make a seamless experience especially for those employees who are not even online.” Leaders are in need of solutions that allow their deskless employees (and those in more rural parts of the world) to access learning on their personal mobile devices on their own time instead of locking it behind a firewall.1

Additionally, with several generations (sometimes up to 5)2 working together in a company, the rate of adopting new technologies can vary, ranging from enthusiasm to reluctance. A learning leader we spoke to is tackling this by instituting a blended approach of technology enabled content being delivered by an instructor in a classroom setting.

"It's hard trying to make a seamless experience especially for employees who are not even online."

Interviewed Learning Leader

Footnotes

  1. The deskless workforce: A massive opportunity for entrepreneurs, Kevin Spain, VentureBeat, September 2018.
  2. There are now 5 generations in the workforce – can they work together? Richard Bailey, Fast Company. February 2019.

Written by

Dani Johnson
Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

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